On January 21, a lot of new belts will be tied. Promotions in Brazilian Jiu Jitsu are a big deal. They don’t come up often, and there aren’t a lot of them. If you stick it out, and you should, at best you’re only going to wear 5 belts.
BJJ is an art, a method of fighting, a way of thinking, a sport and, above all, it’s a practice. It’s like the practice of medicine or law. It’s similar to how yoga is a practice. It’s something we do for the sake of doing and to keep improving. Through our practice we get better at our trade, and the benefits go far beyond the mat.
For those getting promoted, congratulations. It’s something worth celebrating. The belt you untie that day will never be worn again. You’ve changed since you first tied that thing on, and now that you tie on a new belt you can embrace the changes yet to come.
Getting a blue belt is a huge deal. Most people that start BJJ never get to experience this. Other than black belt, this is probably the belt you will wear the longest. Enjoy the ride. Getting a purple belt is a massive achievement. Any purple belt you meet has had to survive and escape terrible positions for years before they even got to start implementing combos and guards that are a real problem to deal with. Brown belt is where it gets really fun. It gets even better from there.
Sometimes promotions don’t make us thrilled. It’s not uncommon to feel like a promotion isn’t deserved. It might all be relative. Professor Eliot once recognized that, “everyone over 40 says this.” Trust the process. Your professor knows and trust you. They see your game without the internal dialogue and self-criticism. Imposter syndrome is a funny thing, but it’s never going to help you. If a professor promotes you and you don’t think you’re ready or deserving, don’t worry about it. Your professor knows more about BJJ and where you are. Enjoy it.
While uncommon, sometimes people may exhibit jealousy or hard feelings if one person is promoted. This serves no one, but it happens. If you didn’t get promoted and find yourself bent out of shape because someone you think has lesser BJJ did, don’t worry about it. BJJ is an incredibly individualized sport. The 22-year-old competitor trying to break into the UFC has a different path than the dad working 60 hours a week trying to keep all the plates spinning. If you hear another questioning why a person was promoted, remind them of this.
While uncommon, sometimes promotions make people uneasy, and getting told about a promotion can create a lot of anxiety. The chattering monkey in the cranial vault starts shouting, “but I’m not ready! I need another year at this rank! I haven’t even competed! Everyone will hate me for this!”
Conversely, we can get disappointed or even angry about not getting promoted. It happens to everyone. We park at a rank for longer than we think we should. Sometimes it makes us feel ignored, invisible or that maybe we did something to deserve it. First, don’t take it personal. Like most things in life, it’s hardly ever personal. Second, unless it’s a black belt, eventually you’ll be promoted.
No matter what rank a person is being promoted to, the next job is to become that rank. You only get to wear it for so long, so fill it with as many experiences as possible. We all have different paths, expectations and experiences. The beauty of BJJ is that it can mean many different things to people. We share a lot of things, but we all have deeply personal reasons why we do this. Promotions reflect this. Every promotion is for the individual, being promoted on their individual merit. Nobody gets here alone. It takes all of us to fil the room.